Opinion: It’s time for a conversation about kids and gun safety

An open dialogue on gun violence prevention, transcending partisan divides, is imperative.

(Chris Samuels | The Salt Lake Tribune) Children stand in front of a rally for increased gun safety measures at the Capitol in Salt Lake City, Saturday, June 11, 2022.

It’s time for a conversation about gun safety and our kids. The following should give you pause, make you think about where and how your guns are stored, and ponder your next action steps.

According to a recent study in “Pediatrics,” firearm injuries and deaths among children doubled during the pandemic. The CDC released data showing that unintentional injury is the leading cause of death for children aged 0-17, and firearms are the top injury method. These studies focused on national trends; Utah has had its own increases in accidental and intentional firearm-related injuries.

While the Utah State Legislature has taken steps to highlight voluntary measures that curb access to firearms for violent individuals, these efforts fall short of preventing the worst outcomes — especially for our children. The facts speak for themselves.

In 2020, Utah witnessed a 47% increase in firearm-related injuries, with 650 cases. These included 375 unintentional injuries, 60 intentional injuries and 51 assaults. Also, in 2020, Utah recorded the highest number of child firearm deaths since 1999. 2021 saw a 14% decrease in firearm-related injuries, but the issue persisted, with 276 unintentional injuries, 60 intentional injuries, and 49 assaults.

The data also make it clear that this is a statewide problem. The highest overall firearm injury rates and unintentional firearm injury rates occur in rural areas, such as TriCounty and Southeast Utah local health districts. In contrast, urban areas experience the highest frequency of firearm injuries. These data points emphasize the urgent need for comprehensive solutions.

Addressing the root causes demands a holistic approach that moves beyond political rhetoric. Prioritizing robust mental health services, early intervention and accessible resources is crucial. Utah has made strides in this regard, positively impacting lives.

Empowering law enforcement with the authority to temporarily remove firearms, as seen in Extreme Risk Protection Orders (ERPOs), can prevent potential tragedies. ERPOs enable intervention when individuals show signs of imminent danger, limiting access to firearms during crises.

Education and awareness play pivotal roles in responsible firearm ownership. Promoting safe storage practices and initiatives like gun safety courses and community outreach programs can minimize accidental shootings, especially involving children.

An open dialogue on gun violence prevention, transcending partisan divides, is imperative. Collaboration among community leaders, law enforcement, healthcare professionals and citizens is necessary to develop evidence-based policies prioritizing public safety while respecting responsible gun ownership rights.

Utah has a unique opportunity to lead in preventing gun violence. Together, we can create a safer future by adopting comprehensive solutions, addressing root causes, empowering law enforcement, promoting responsible ownership and fostering informed discussions.

Let’s build a Utah where lives are protected, families are safe and communities flourish. The time for action is now.

Carrie Butler

Carrie Butler is the executive director of the Utah Public Health Association and is a passionate advocate for safe places and spaces for Utah’s children.

Dr Teresa Garrett

Dr. Teresa Garrett is an associate professor at the University of Utah College of Nursing (opinions are her own) and has been a public health nurse since the last century.

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